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Home : Holidays : Oceania : New Zealand : Bay of Islands-New Zealand's Top 5

Bay of Islands-New Zealand's Top 5

On the east coast of Northland a length of sand and rock coastline circles a sea pierced by 150 islands. Discovered by legendary Maori navigator Kupe, visited by Captain Cook in 1769, home to the Nga Puhi tribe (iwi) of Maori, the Bay of Islands is a truly remarkable area.
The Bay of Islands natural beauty is a sight to behold and is one of the most beautiful New Zealand travel destinations.  This aquatic playground, lavishly furnished with 144 islands and a myriad of secluded beaches, keeps visitors entertained for days.   Every bay, shore and cove has a story to tell.  The townships of this historic bay are alive with memories of the area??s colourful history.  Visitors can explore the well-preserved Maori and European relics of the past. The Bay of Islands is considered to be the birthplace of New Zealand as a bi-cultural nation, and today you can see how Maori culture and lifestyle have adapted to modern times.

New Zealand Sightseeing - North Island, Bay of Islands

The Bay of Islands, a Natural Treasure

The townships of this historical bay are alive with memories of the area's colourful history. Visitors are welcome to explore the well-preserved relics of the past, both Maori and European, in romantic Russell, Paihia, Waitangi or Kerikeri.

Wherever you are in the Bay of Islands, it's impossible to escape the lure of the sea. Catch a ferry or charter boat and immerse yourself in the blue-green world of island and beach. Or paddle a sea kayak in and out of island nooks and crannies. Swimming with dolphins is another specialty of the Bay of Islands. Many operators in the region offer excellent trips to spectacular Cape Brett and the ??Hole in the Rock?? on Piercy Island.

Where is it?

The Bay of Islands is north of Auckland in the subtropical region of Northland, and is found on the Twin Coast Discovery Highway.

How do I get there?

Drive 3 ½ hours by the East Coast, or by the West Coast rainforests in around 5 hours.  Great Sights has a daily departing coach from downtown Auckland.

When is the best time to go?

The subtropical climate makes it an attractive destination all year round.  The Bay of Islands is a popular holiday spot for Kiwis and internationals, so it pays to book early in the summer months.

History and culture

Not so long ago this land saw the throng and bustle, blood and tears of ship deserters, whalers, sealers and sailors. The Bay of Islands, birthplace of New Zealand as we know it today, was once a bustling seafaring and political base fusing Maori and European culture. Now it is a place of holiday fun and water adventures, refined food and wine pleasures and quiet contemplation of the past.

Several towns are scattered like shells around the coast, each with its own individual feel. There's the main holiday town Paihia - a vibrant, uptempo place and a few minutes away elegant Russell, once a whaling town, now a tranquil oasis.

It's a sweet irony that the town described in the lawless late 1800's as 'the hellhole of the Pacific' is now one of the country's most refined places to visit. In Russell, our colonial past is honoured in our present with carefully restored historic buildings such as Christ Church with its bullet holes from the Maori Wars.

In Waitangi amid a quiet reserve you'll find the Treaty House and a fully-carved Whare Runanga, or Maori Meeting House. Waitangi is the historic site where Maori chiefs and European representatives signed the charters that formed our governing agreement, the Treaty of Waitangi, in 1840.

This was years after the initial conflict created by the arrival of French navigator Marion de Fresne in 1772 which resulted in bloodshed of both Maori and Europeans. Later came religious leaders like Australian Anglican missionary Samuel Marsden in 1814 and the first Roman Catholic Bishop of the south-west Pacific, John Baptist Francis Pompallier. Bishop Pompallier was respected by Maori chiefs and European leaders alike and was present at Waitangi.

Less than 15 minutes drive from Waitangi and you're in Kerikeri. This fertile orchard town is also an artist's retreat with an arts and crafts trail as well as wineries, the magnificent 27m Rainbow Falls and nearby kauri forest, Puteki. If Bay of Islands is a magnet for boaties, the town of Opua has the greatest pull with every kind of boat to be found in its safe harbour. This is the way you come to Bay of Islands by boat. And if you come by road, your gateway is Kawakawa.

It's extraordinary that amid all the colonial history of this area in this township you??ll find the only building in the Southern hemisphere designed by Austrian artist, Frederick Hundertwasser and the last of his buildings before he died in 1999. Even more curious, it??s the public toilet.

What to do?

Country cafes, gourmet restaurants, kayaking, swimming with dolphins, touching history, walking coastal tracks, seeing Maori war canoes, game fishing, cruising, resting. Bay of Islands has an abundance of different kinds of experiences to connect with the people and culture, ocean and land.

Visit Cape Brett Lighthouse (c1906) by walking track or take a boat to Grand Cathedral Cave or 'the hole in the rock'. Follow big game fisherman and American Western writer Zane Grey who caught marlin here in 1921. Be guided through historic sites with story-telling. Feel the roar of noise at Haruru Falls, a rare horseshoe-shaped waterfall that flows to the legendary 'taniwha' or water monster in the lagoon below.

Walk along a red pohutukawa tree blossom-strewn golden sand beach. See whales, penguins, seals and listen to the songs of seabirds. Have a round of golf on the most majestic of courses. Ride a jet-ski in the hot sun, sit in the shade with an iced tea. Always in the Bay of Islands you can feel the past close behind while anticipating the pleasure of what??s to come.